Students and landlords struggle with rents during Covid-19 lockdown

Many students rushed home before the lockdown. Those who left their belongings at rented accommodation are asking for a break or a cut in rent payments.
Many students rushed home before the lockdown. Those who left their belongings at rented accommodation are asking for a break or a cut in rent payments.
Image: SANDISO PHALISO

While some frustrated students are being asked to fork out for rent at month-end despite the lockdown, landlord Pumla Mgidi has taken a different approach and allowed her tenants to take a payment break.

The 74-year-old from Block H in Soshanguve, Pretoria, has frozen rent payments for her student tenants, who are studying at the Tshwane University of Technology.

But this means that Mgidi has lost about R8,500 a month due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

“As we speak, these children are not here. They had to go and leave their stuff behind, so I can’t say they must pay. They had no choice. They had to leave their things because they were told to leave immediately,” she told TimesLIVE.

Mgidi said even though she relied on the rent money for her basic needs, she had to be compassionate to the students.

“At times like these we must have compassion because this virus has affected us all as a nation. While I am crying, there are those who are crying more than me out there. I don’t want to lie, the rent money helps me in the house. But it's not fair on my tenants to pay while they are not using my water and electricity,” she said.

Mgidi has 10 student tenants in total, who each pay R850 a month.

“I can’t move their things and put other tenants [in] because it will be unfair. As a person I must understand their situation, even though it is also not easy for me. Things happen in this world and we must always support one another. This too shall pass,” she said.

Other students are not so fortunate, however. Their landlords still require them to make payments.

One the them, Kebitsaone Tsatsi, said she currently owes her landlord R2,300. The 21-year-old, who is studying at the Northern Cape Urban TVET College's City Campus in Kimberley, said she had to leave her belongings on March 17 to get home before the lockdown took effect.

“I don’t have parents and I am living with my sister. She has three children that she should take care of. She is not getting enough money, so she won’t be able to pay my rent,” she said.

Tsatsi said she has tried to renegotiate payment terms with her landlord, but was simply told to “make a plan”.

“I have applied for NSFAS [the National Student Financial Aid Scheme], so my landlord wants me to pay the rent. I can’t afford it because it's R1,650. He keeps reminding me of his money and said that I must make a plan, even though I tried to reason with him,” she said.

A 21-year-old student at Rosebank College in Pretoria said landlords should try to reduce payments for tenants.

She suggested rent payments should be reduced to at least 50% or frozen as many students left their stuff and are back at home.

“Right now I am at home due to the lockdown and I am still paying rent, even though I am not using water and electricity. I would really appreciate a payment break — or at least we should get a discount since we are not at the residential premises, so we are not using water and electricity. But the bill comes back being the same,” she said.

She said she was expected to pay her R1,800 rent despite being at home in Limpopo since the lockdown came into effect.

“They should at least allow us to pay half the amount. I don’t understand why the bill comes back with electricity costs and water costs when I am not there. I only left my clothes.”

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